By Tiffany Wilkinson, Arizona Disabled Sports Executive Director and DCG Event Director
Photo by Loren Worthington
What started as an event hosting a few local Arizona athletes has grown into a premiere multi-sport event showcasing hundreds of athletes from around the world. The 2016 Desert Challenge Games took place May 11th-15th in the Phoenix Valley and included 320 athletes as well as over 100 coaches and guide runners. Athletes ages 7 through adulthood with a physical, visual, or newly-added cognitive/intellectual disability were invited to compete in air gun, archery, field, swimming and track, with the opportunity to qualify for national and international competitions coming up this summer.
The 2016 event was one of six events called the IPC Athletics Grand Prix (International Paralympic Committee) and was the only Athletics Grand Prix event taking place in the United States. This year’s Games were an especially big deal for IPC athletes trying to qualify their national teams for the Summer Paralympics to in Rio de Janeiro. The Desert Challenge Games also offer a unique opportunity for all levels of athletes – whether new to the sport or elite athletes competing on the international circuit – to compete next to each other.
The host organization, Arizona Disabled Sports, proudly sponsored 48 local athletes who practice with the weekly training program at Mesa High School. Fourteen of the local athletes qualified to compete in the National Junior Disability Championships in Wisconsin this July, and an additional five athletes qualified to attend the US Paralympic Trials in North Carolina. The Desert Challenge Games also welcomed 35 veterans from across the nation with physical or visual disabilities to compete in the track and field events.
Arizona State University’s Joe Selleh Track offered a Mondo track surface and field pits for several records to be set at the event, including 30 IPC World records and/ or IPC Americas records and 50 Adaptive Sports USA (ASUSA) Junior and Adult records for track and field. Additional venues included Papago Park Archery Range in Phoenix, Kino Aquatic Center in Mesa and Broadway Recreation Center in Mesa.
“I have been a part of Desert Challenge Games for several years and am impressed with how it continues to grow year after year,” says Brandon Dale, Vice President of Hanger, Inc. “It is an amazing event to be a part of.”
Arizona Disabled Sports offers a weekly training program for track, field, archery and swimming during the spring season starting in January and ending with the Desert Challenge Games. Not an athlete? You can still join this event! The competition also requires nearly 200 volunteers from the community to support the event over five days.